Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Taiwan's Catch-22

Some Shower Thoughts - yes, this is what I think about in the shower. I've been traveling in Vietnam and, having returned to Taiwan on a red-eye after an overnight bus ride, am light on sleep. Hopefully this doesn't mean the post below is incoherent or overly repetitive. I'm sure someone has written about this before, but hey, I like to share Shower Thoughts so here goes.


I hear a lot - in media, in real life, in comments - that the US need not change its "One China Policy" because "Taiwan" doesn't exist as a national entity and the "Republic of China" still technically considers itself the rightful and only government of China. That, barring a formal change in the constitution of the ROC (and one would assume a name change as well) making this claim, there is no need to re-examine US policy because people "on both sides of the Strait" still officially believe that there is "One China".

Putting aside the already-debunked notion of the US's "One China Policy" (there isn't one, not really - acknowledging someone else'sposition does not constitute a position of one's own, and everything else isdeliberately vague), I have a few problems with this idea that Taiwan would have to formally make this change before the US would be obligated to take any policy changes into consideration, and because they have not done so, clearly they (the government, but, it is implies, also the Taiwanese people), they don't want to.

No no no no no this is wrong no.

This is one of those things where a perspective that is reasonable on its face actually hides much more sinister motives, even if unintentionally so, though I often doubt that they are unintentional.
What this particular argument is doing, by appearing to simply defend official norms, is playing straight into Chinese propaganda, if not China’s outright strategy to marginalize Taiwan. 

Those who say this must know perfectly well that Taiwan can’t change its official stance, no matter how much it may want to (and polls consistently show that thepeople want to). Doing so would, in Chinese eyes, constitute a move towards formal independence (which is what the Taiwanese likely actually want), which China has consistently said would cause them to immediately declare war. While Taiwanese do favor independence and do consider themselves, by and large, Taiwanese rather than Chinese, pretty much nobody in Taiwan wants to go to war because they quite rightly realize that war, well, sucks.

Taiwan, therefore, regardless of what the people want, is locked into making this claim that they are officially the government of China – a claim they pretty much try to ignore because its existence is just as inconvenient and unwanted as it is necessary – because the other option is to watch the country they have built get demolished by the PLA.

Consider the double standard: you insist Taiwan must change their claim if they don’t want to be considered Chinese, and to continue to have a government that considers itself “China” can only mean that the people are, or think of themselves as, Chinese. Yet you also insist that they not do so: to “provoke” China in such a way would be problematic, would cause war, would make Taiwan a “troublemaker”. Taiwan doesn’t want to make trouble, does it? No, little Taiwan, just sit tight, don’t make Big China angry. Don’t start a war. You don’t want to be a troublemaker, do you?

Oh, but if you don’t make trouble and instead choose not to make any official changes, you must therefore think of yourselves as Chinese, because you didn’t make any official changes. If you want us to think of you as Taiwanese...

...oh but don’t do that because you wouldn’t want to be provocateurs, would you?

How is this not a painfully, nakedly obvious Catch-22 for Taiwan?

Consider as well that the only reason the ROC – and therefore its vision of China - exists in Taiwan is because the Nationalists decided to claim Taiwan, then flee to it, and then proceed to set up a government that nobody in Taiwan said they wanted. They weren’t invited, they invaded. That constitution claiming to be the sole government of China, even the name “Republic of China” or even calling themselves Chinese, are not things that the people of Taiwan ever decided, together, through self-determination, that they wanted to claim or do. They were ideas forced on Taiwan by a government that was never invited to govern and has since democratized, under a name that can't be gotten rid of so easily.

Consider, then, what you are really saying when you say “the last time I checked ‘Taiwan’ was officially the ‘Republic of China’ and therefore considers itself a part of China, too”: you are saying that any sort of indication of what the people of Taiwan want doesn’t matter, all that matters is a position decided by a regime that came from China uninvited and decided unilaterally for the people already living here what their government stood for, that now cannot be changed because the country they fled has threatened war if they do so.

What you are saying is that you do not believe in self-determination. What you are saying is that you think modern-day colonialism is okay, not only that, but that a provision in a document that can’t be removed under threat of war is a perfectly fine barometer by which to determine the will of a people. That they literally must risk getting pummeled by China in order to change a few words on a piece of paper before you will take them seriously. You know it is impossible; you know that what was claimed by the ROC back when the ROC was a dictatorship does not reflect the will of the Taiwanese people, but you demand the impossible anyway. Why?

Let’s say a dictator claimed to speak for you, and then years after dismantling that dictatorship you could not officially, on a government level, disavow that dictator’s words without watching your city get blown up, but on a personal level were quite clear that you never bought into the original rhetoric. How would you feel if everyone else in the world stuck their fingers in their ears and shouted “la la la we can’t hear you, you must think that because your former dictator said so and you don’t want to die, la la la”?

How would you feel if your country underwent a massive upheaval in civil society, bringing it from a nation unwilling to speak truth to power about its identity to one willing to own its nationhood unapologetically, and the rest of the world collectively ignored it, pretending you all still felt the way you seemed to before it all happened? Because that's basically how Taiwan has been treated since the Sunflower Movement.

Does that make any sense at all? And if it does, is it really so easy to tune out the cognitive dissonance of claiming to care about freedom and democracy around the world? Can you really claim to be anti-war if you think that a nation must risk war – a war it will lose - to express its true desires? Can you really claim to be pro-democracy if you think the ideas of a former dictator speak for the will of a democratic people? Is that really the price an already-sovereign nation must pay to be taken seriously when there are other valid ways of knowing how the people of that nation feel?

Consider this as well: this is exactly what China wants you to think. They want you to set an impossible standard for taking Taiwan seriously: either they are “troublemakers” provoking a “war” or they “clearly still think of themselves as Chinese because their government officially says so”. There is no path forward for Taiwan to claim its sovereignty and identity on an official level. You’ve blocked out in your mind the notion that a people might have a different will and vision for their future than what they are forced to claim by a hostile power. Or perhaps you are claiming that the position they are forced to hold, literally at missile-point, is a sincere one when you know full fucking well it’s not.

And you’ve done this because this has been China’s propaganda campaign all along. They want you to mentally block Taiwan off into two alternatives: either they are a troublemaker and warmonger disturbing peace in Asia, or they think they are Chinese. The more impossible you make Taiwan’s position by refusing to consider data that shows the true will of the Taiwanese people, the easier you make China’s goal of annexing Taiwan and then pretending it’s not a hostile takeover of a sovereign state.

In short, i
f you insist that Taiwan has to disavow the positions of the ROC (which were forced on it) in order to be taken seriously as a sovereign nation with a national identity, but then say that any provocation of China makes Taiwan a "troublemaker", then you've set Taiwan up for a Catch-22. Either you know that and you're a jerk, or you don't and you're a useful idiot.

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